Following Trump's recent executive order restricting movement from seven selected nations, some proponents of Trump's actions point out that in 2011 President Obama instituted similar restrictions on Iraqi nationals for similar reasons (ie1, ie2, ie3). The reasons given at the time for Obama's ban were that several terrorists had managed to slip into the US via the refugee program.

From what I can tell, President Obama's actions and President Trump's are very similar, largely only differing by scale. Did President Obama take effectively the same actions as President Trump in 2011?

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    Can you define "similar" and what you mean by "scale"? Do you mean just "Obama did it for 1 country but Trump for 7" or are you referring to what was halted and why.
    – rougon
    Jan 29, 2017 at 16:58
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    Then I think the answer, as you noted, is that yes, he suspended immigration. Personally, I find it only vaguely similar, as its cause (discovering the refugee program was being used by terrorists), implementation (covered 1 country and didn't halt everything the way Trump's did last night), and scale of enforcement (didn't cover 7 countries, didn't look to institute "extreme vetting") were quite different. But that just might be my opinion.
    – rougon
    Jan 29, 2017 at 17:14
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    What difference is there between this question and skeptics.stackexchange.com/questions/36950/… (apart from yours being better written)?
    – Golden Cuy
    Jan 29, 2017 at 20:39
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    @AndrewGrimm They are similar, but the root quesiton is different. That asks 'Did Obama halt immigration from Iraq', and mine asks 'Are Obama's and Trump's actions effectively the smae'. Jan 29, 2017 at 20:44
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    Different questions, don't think it should be marked duplicate.
    – ventsyv
    Jan 31, 2017 at 3:20

2 Answers 2


There are very significant differences between the 2011 restrictions and the 2017 executive order.

The most important is that 2011 was a increased vetting and not an actual ban. Refugees continued to arrive and be processed throughout the period. References here and in this question.

There are other significant differences also:

  1. The 2011 restrictions applied only to one kind of immigration - refugee claimants. The 2017 order applied to almost all kinds of visitors and immigrants - tourists, business visitors, family visitors, work visas, permanent residents.
  2. The 2011 restrictions was to visas in progress - i.e. those who had not yet been approved for their visas. The 2017 order prevented even those whose visas had already been approved from entering.
  3. The 2011 restrictions did not apply to those legally resident in the US. The 2017 order prevented even those legally resident in the US and who happened to be visiting abroad from returning, in some cases separating them from their families.
  4. The 2011 restrictions did not affect those with dual nationalities that would normally be permitted to visit the US. The 2017 order prevented even those legally allowed to visit the US without a visa if they happened to also hold the nationality of a banned country.
  5. The 2011 restrictions was in response to specific intelligence information specific to one country. The 2017 order has claimed no such specific information.

References 1 2

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    Other differences: the 2011 move was with input from State Dept., DHS. 2017, reportedly not so much.
    – ff524
    Jan 29, 2017 at 20:39
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    The only reference you have is from 2015, before the current order. Therefore your statements about the 2017 order are unreferenced.
    – Golden Cuy
    Jan 29, 2017 at 20:42
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    Can you please link your claims directly to your references? Its a bit unclear, especially since one of your references is one of my references Jan 29, 2017 at 22:33
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    @DJClayworth I find it very hard to understand how the two references you provide relate to the point you make. Please don't do that: add specific quotes from the articles because this can lead to a LOT of confusion and also, link rot.
    – Sklivvz
    Jan 30, 2017 at 0:31
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    @DJClayworth In the meantime can you please clarify your references? I can't call this a good answer unless you make the relationship between your references and claims clearer. Jan 30, 2017 at 4:34

I have written an answer to the duplicate challenging the facts as asserted in the question.

The rest of the answer addresses a difference between the 2017 executive order and a hypothetical 6-month suspension of Iraqi refugee processing.

In addition to the points raised in DJ Clayworth's answer, I would like to add the perspective of Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) on the legality (presumably, under U.S. law) of 2011 suspension vs. 2017:

Many supporters and opponents of President Trump's executive order are conflating the terms "immigrant" (which encompasses green card holders), "nonimmigrant," and "refugee."

It's not lawful to ban immigrants because of "nationality, place of birth, or place of residence." This nondiscrimination provision comes from a 1965 law (8 U.S.C. 1152 Sec. 202(a)(1)(A)) that limits the 1952 law (8 U.S.C. 1182 Sec. 212(f)) that the president cites.

It's lawful to ban nonimmigrants for almost any reason. These are people who are temporarily visiting the United States, like tourists or students.

It's lawful to ban refugees for almost any reason. But banning all refugees from particular countries is harsh and unwise. We still should admit well-vetted persons.

Understanding these distinctions is important because supporters of President Trump's executive order continue to wrongly insist that the order is lawful and that President Obama did almost the same thing in 2011. And opponents of President Trump's executive order continue to wrongly insist that banning refugees violates the Constitution or the law.

President Trump's executive order covers not only refugees but also immigrants and nonimmigrants. As noted above, it's not lawful to discriminate in the issuance of an immigrant visa because of the person's "nationality, place of birth, or place of residence."

President Obama's action (which wasn't disclosed at the time) covered only refugees and, therefore, did not violate the Constitution or the law, even if one finds it objectionable for other reasons.

Regarding green card holders, a CNN report alleges that "Friday night, DHS arrived at the legal interpretation that the executive order restrictions... did not apply to people with lawful permanent residence, generally referred to as green card holders" and that guidance sent to airlines on Friday night said that "lawful permanent residents are not included and may continue to travel to the USA", but that the "White House overruled that guidance overnight". A DHS spokesperson also told Reuters on Saturday that the executive order "will bar green card holders".

On Sunday evening, the Department of Homeland Security announced that entry of lawful permanent residents (green card holders) would be deemed "to be in the national interest", that they would be evaluated on a "case-by-case" basis but that "lawful permanent resident status will be a dispositive factor".

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    "It's lawful to ban refugees for almost any reason." ...uh, not sure where you got that idea from, but no, it's not. Merkel had to explain this to the Donald.
    – user541686
    Jan 30, 2017 at 1:18
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    @Mehrdad Presumably Amash is referring to U.S. law. (It's not my analysis).
    – ff524
    Jan 30, 2017 at 1:24
  • Ohh I see. Do you want to add this then? It seems like if it violates international law (er, treaties, whatever these are) then that should be mentioned.
    – user541686
    Jan 30, 2017 at 1:25
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    I only meant you might want to include it to point out that the part of the quote you already have regarding this may be wrong or very misleading. If you don't think your quote should be there in the first place then you can obviously take it out.
    – user541686
    Jan 30, 2017 at 1:41
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    @Mehrdad I updated the answer to clarify that Amash appears to be referring to US law. Thanks for the suggestion.
    – ff524
    Jan 30, 2017 at 1:41

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